The Dallas Stars pushed aside the haters and took a very skilled Calgary Flames team to overtime in Game 7 before finally bowing out. For them to push this series this far, some significant things had to go right. Let’s look at those and how they nearly vaulted an overmatched Stars team into the second round.
Jake Oettinger Was Heroic
There is simply no bigger factor to the Stars success than their 23-year-old goaltender. Jake Oettinger stepped into the starting role midway through the season after Dallas shuffled through their top three goalies in Ben Bishop, Anton Khudobin, and Braden Holtby. Once the Minnesota native was given the opportunity, he never relinquished it.
Despite a successful regular season, Oettinger was still entering this round without ever starting a playoff game and only appearing in blowouts during the 2020 run. Still, Rick Bowness and his staff never had any doubt.
“We have confidence in the skillsets he has, his athleticism, his compete, he’s mentally strong,” Stars head coach Rick Bowness said. “When he has had some tough nights, he has bounced back, when he has played back-to-back games, he has played very well. This is all a learning experience for him and we are just going to help him get through it.”
The youngster delivered a historic performance throughout the series. In seven games, Oettinger held a 3-4 record with a .954 save percentage and 1.81 goals-against average, among the best across the entire league. His 272 stops set a franchise record for saves in a series and ranked third in NHL history.
“What I really like about Jake is he’s loving this,” Bowness said. “He’s enjoying this, and that’s what you want to see your athletes do. Playoffs are exciting. You work all year to get here. It’s the best time of year to be playing hockey, so enjoy it. We gave him the ball, he’s running with it and loving it. It’s his attitude, he competes.”
On top of his series numbers, he was able to keep his team in games, steal a couple of wins, and nearly single-handedly sent Dallas to the next round with his record-setting Game 7 performance.
- Stars franchise-record 64 saves
- Second-most saves in a Game 7 in NHL history
- 3.75 goals saved above expected
“You go into overtime with Jake, you know it’s going to take a perfect shot to beat him, and it was a perfect shot,” Bowness said. “Johnny made a great shot right under the bar. You can’t do anything about that.”
Don’t forget, Oettinger has still yet to play a full 82-game NHL season and is just reaching the end of his entry-level contract. The youngster has barely scratched the surface while learning from some of the NHL’s best goalies and one of the better goalie coaches in Jeff Reese. Oettinger’s maturity, work ethic, and powerful mindset are among his best traits and are some of the biggest stepping stones to becoming an elite NHL goaltender.
“I’ve never been more motivated than I am right now,” Oettinger said. “I’m going to do everything I can to make sure that I get this opportunity again, and I’ll make sure I’m on the other side of it the next time. I have a lot of stuff I want to work on. I feel like I’m just scratching the surface of where I’m going to be one day. That excites me.”
The Stars are set in goal for a long time, there is no question about that. Since they traded up to pick Oettinger in 2017, they knew they had a possible franchise goalie. Now, he has solidified that notion and perhaps shown that his ceiling is even higher than anyone ever anticipated.
“Jake Oettinger’s a franchise goalie, and he’s going to get better,” Bowness said. “He’s a young guy, this is his first run through the playoffs and he’s going to gain from his experience. The Dallas Stars are in good shape for a long time with Jake.”
Stars’ Penalty Kill & Defensive Game Step Up
The Stars have been among the NHL’s leaders in defensive categories for some time now. However, during the 2021-22 regular season, they struggled in their end of the ice. Ranking middle of the pack defensively, Dallas was forced to score more goals or win even tighter games than they desired.
Heading into the postseason against the sixth-best offensive team in the league, the main concern was if they could stop the constant attack and trio of 40-goal scorers that Calgary brought. However, Dallas not only slowed them down, they kept them to the second-lowest goal total in the entire first round (15).
“Ninety-eight points is a hell of a year,” Bowness said. “We got in the playoffs, so if you want to pick on the negative, we got through all of that, we fixed all of our problems, and then we got going. That was a tough March. We felt good going into the playoffs, and we gave those guys a hell of a run.”
Dallas shut out the Flames in Game 2, kept them to just a single goal in Game 1, and only allowed them to reach four once. Oh, by the way, that same Flames team just scored nine goals in Game 1 against the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday, so I think this is certainly something to be proud of.
A big part of that defensive success was the resilience of their penalty kill. The Flames finished the season with the 10th best power play at 22.9%. The Stars penalty kill struggled through long stretches and finished 19th during the regular season. In seven games, the Flames scored just two power-play goals on 24 extra-man chances, good enough for last in the playoffs at 8.33% and enough to keep the Stars alive in the series.
While they certainly hoped that more would go right in this series, the team can hold their head high and know that they put forth a gritty effort and nearly upset a very good team. Knowing that all they needed was one bounce to go their way is a pretty good way to head into the summer motivated.
Stay tuned for the flip side of this piece “What Went Wrong” tomorrow, May 20.
Sam Nestler is a credentialed Dallas Stars contributor for the ‘The Hockey Writers’. Growing up in New Jersey, Sam has been playing hockey since he was 7 years old. Developing a love for writing in college, Sam uses his hockey knowledge to create analyses and articles on every aspect of the game. Sam also hosts his own podcast on Spotify, the “Slapshot Sammy’ podcast, breaking down action across the Stars, the NHL, and college hockey. Check out the podcast here, and give his latest article a read!